Is Istanbul in Europe or Asia?

The Bosphorus Strait

Istanbul is a fascinating city that straddles right between Asia and Europe. Istanbul is a major city in the country of Turkey.

Landing in Istanbul Ataturk airport
Landing in Istanbul Ataturk airport

Istanbul has the famous Bosphorus Strait used as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. The city is divided almost right down the middle between the European and Asia Continents, so the city of Istanbul sits between two continents. Many consider Istanbul a transcontinental city that is straddled on two different continents.

Istanbul – The Europe and Asia Divide

Istanbul is the only city globally that is spread over two continents. With the Bosphorus strait acting as the dividing line between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a city with two parts; one is within the Asian continent and the other in the European continent. The Strait of Bosphorus has an inlet known as the Golden horn that further divides the European side of Istanbul into northern and southern halves.

Turkey also has the Sea of Marmara, a sea located entirely within Turkey’s borders.

Turkey and Europe

Even though Istanbul is split between Asia and Europe, the country of Turkey is considered by some to be European and not Middle Eastern. One of the reasons some consider Turkey to be European is because the Bosphorus Strait goes right through Istanbul, which is the separating line between Europe and Western Asia.

Another reason some consider Turkey to be European is due to Istanbul’s history of one time being considered part of the Roman Empire. 

Turkey has applied to be part of the European Union (EU), so Turkey sees itself as European more than Asian. They have not been able to get full membership yet as the European Union is concerned with some aspects of the Rule of Law and other issues in Turkey. 

What adds to this confusion about whether Turkey is really in Europe or Asia is that many see Turkey as more closely aligned with the Middle East than Europe.

But even though Turkey and Istanbul are divided between Asia and Europe, Turkey and the city of Istanbul are considered European by some and Middle Eastern by others or Western Asian. The EU commission has shifted Turkey to the MENA or the Middle East and North African countries.

So even though Turkey tried to get into the EU, many now consider it part of the Middle East and not Europe.

Istanbul – A Transcontential City

Many people call Istanbul a Transcontinental city because Istanbul spans two continents – Asia and Europe. Istanbul is not 100% on one continent or another. It is a city that sits on the divide between these two continents through the Bosphorus Strait.

The term intercontinental is usually used to refer to a railroad that went across two continents. But in this case, the term transcontinental refers to the Bosphorus Strait, which divides Istanbul between the two different continents.

The Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait is a waterway located right in the heart of Istanbul; it is also known as the Strait of Istanbul. The Bosphorus Strait is the waterway that links the European part of the city from the Asian part, or in other words, is the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

The Bosphorus Strait is 31 kilometers or 19 miles long. It has a width that can vary between 730 to 3300 meters. The strait is about 11 meters or 360 feet deep.

The strait is wide at the north entrance and narrows in parts, making it a dangerous waterway to navigate.

Today the strait is of significant importance as it links the Black Sea with the world’s oceans; it is an important shipping channel. Daily ships are going up and down the Bosphorus Strait.

Several major shipping ports on the Black Sea need to go through the Bosphorus Strait to get to the global waterways. The Danube River, which flows to the Black Sea, is also a vital trade artery for Balkan countries.

The major shipping ports on the Black Sea that would need to go through the Bosphorus Straight include:

  • Ukraine – Odesa and Illicheivsk Ports
  • Russia – Novorossiysk and Taupse Ports
  • Georgia – Batumi Port
  • Bulgaria – Varna and Burgas Port
  • Romania – Constanta

These port cities would need to send their ship through the Bosphorus Strait. This makes both Istanbul and this strait significant waterway.

Istanbul is a very ancient transcontinental city that sits between the two continents of Europe and Western Asia. The city is divided by a crucial strait which helps link many parts of Asia and Europe by sea to the rest of the world.

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What Makes Istanbul So Special?

As a transcontinental city, it is simple, unique, and memorable. It is also an ancient city home to the Roman empire and, in fact, over four to three other empires. For a long time, the ottoman empire controlled Istanbul as it was at the center of the arts. It’s simple as a city with a fantastic skyline that offers anyone visiting a lot of great things to do.

You can learn more by reading What Makes Istanbul So Special? by clicking here.

Why Was Constantinople Renamed To Istanbul?

The city of Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul in the 1930s. Before this time, many people used the name Istanbul, but only part of the city was within the old city walls. Constantinople was named after the Roman Emperor Constantine, credited with bringing Christianity to the Roman Empire.

To learn more, you can read our blog on Why Was Constantinople Renamed To Istanbul? by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Is Istanbul in Europe or Asia?